Cursive: Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix, AZ 2/27/12

It’s a windy late February night in downtown Phoenix as eerie synth drones force the crowd to grow restless and then fevered as Tim Kasher & crew nonchalantly take the stage.  “This looks like fun!” he smirks, and they don the guitars that are about to take us on a jolty ride full of awkward turns and head-on collisions. 

And the voyage begins with “This House Alive”, the opener from their seventh album, I am Gemini. Released a week before the show, the recording is comprised of thirteen tracks, written from start to finish that narrate a cohesive and dark story of split personality disorder (think Fight Club written by Dostoevsky).  Cursive provides full lyrics on their website in the form of a Playbill, complete with narration and stage direction.  For bookworms like this reviewer, I got a kick out of following along with the play, but I wondered if they would present the live show in a similar narrative fashion.  The album wins at home, but would they actually replay I am Gemini on stage?  Should they even try, and if they did, how do you make a difficult and obtuse play both rock out and make sense? 

 It has been several years since I had seen Cursive last.  Back then, they had cellist Gretta Cohn (2001-2005) as part of the lineup, and while the show was still heady and low-key, they were accessible enough and gratifying.  Not only was Monday’s show accessible, it was loud, full of vigor and entertaining; and as much as I loved the band’s previous incarnation, leaving the cello out of the mix seemed to allow them to turn up their guitar amps.  Instead of giving us a discourse through Gemini, they opted to bounce around their entire catalog all night, playing several from Ugly Organ (2003), including “Art is Hard” and of course, “Recluse,” which they seemed to play begrudgingly, with a slower tempo and more frank and surly pronunciations on Kasher’s part.  They even reached as far back as 2001’s Burst and Bloom for “Mothership, Mothership, Do You Read Me?”. 

 Also, as brooding and complex as Gemini is, they stick to what works in a live setting: big, loud guitars, lots of bass, lots of screaming.  The audience still mostly unfamiliar with the Gemini tracks, were still attentive and animated during the handful that were sprinkled in, but really came to life with favorites like “A Gentleman Caller.”

 Kasher’s points and pantomimed eye contact seemed to say, “Listen closely, I’m telling a story,” especially when he alternates between his signature breathy whisper and powerful screams.  I get the feeling that every little nuance of the performance is deliberate.  “In our angsty, depressing way, we like to have fun,” Kasher jokes. 

Cursive and the openers, Virgin Islands from Seattle and Ume from Austin, combined their efforts to bring one of the louder performances thus far at Crescent.  And for those as yet unfamiliar with Ume, their show is like watching a blonde tornado thrash around center stage while her guitar angrily punches you in the face.  Her guitar playing is incredible, and she ends the song with an ironically cute and high-pitched “thank you!”   

 As for Cursive, they are a distinct new incarnation of the band, one that is both more mature and progressively ardent.  While I am Gemini may be an obtuse tale of split personality delusions, they still put on a show that’s as comprehensible as it is blaring.  Cursive’s live show translates: “We’re brilliant, we’re sophisticated, we’re surly and we still know how to rock.” 


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